A new location of the popular Sugarfish sushi chain is under construction in Calabasas, expected to open this spring in upscale shopping center The Commons. Sugarfish was launched in 2008 by renowned chef Kazunori Nozawa, who ran Sushi Nozawa in Studio City from 1985 until the restaurant closed last year.
Nozawa, who has served up sushi for more than 50 years, trained with master chefs in Tokyo. He is legendary for his strict dining rules and for eschewing American-style sushi, including California rolls and fusion dishes. The Sugarfish website says he "concentrates on the purity of his basic ingredients -- nurturing relationships with the finest fish purveyors across the globe, cutting his fish with an artisan's painstaking care, and even making his own fresh soy sauce and ponzu."
In a New York Times story, Nozawa jokingly called himself "the sushi Nazi," describing restrictions imposed on Sushi Nozawa patrons, including "no cellphones or texting, no loud voices, no asking other patrons to switch seats, no telling Mr. Nozawa what you wanted."
Sugarfish is best known for what is called the "Trust Me" menu. It's a variation on omakase, a Japanese phrase that loosely means "I'll leave it to you." In other words, eating dishes as presented by the chef, without asking for substitutions. We doubt if Sugarfish will be able to stop Calabasas diners from texting, but guests will have to abide by this company policy: "Please, no requests for extra sauces, salt or bowls of rice."
The rice, served warm and loosely packed under the cool fish, can be a particularly sticky subject. The company website devotes several paragraphs to explaining why, under no circumstances, can you request an extra bowl. (Only children are allowed to do this, and no fair borrowing a kid to get around the rule.) According to the website, when the chain experimented for a few months by allowing customers to order extra rice, it slowed down the kitchen's operation: "We found that our ability to serve all our guests in a timely fashion was significantly impacted." Sugarfish states that a new batch of rice is made every 30 minutes, "discarding any unused rice from the prior batch." Maybe instead of tossing that rice every half-hour, it could instead be handed out to guests who want more?
Not that Nozawa is open to suggestions. He famously ejected actress Charlize Theron from Sushi Nozawa in 2007 because, as the story goes, she tried to give him advice about which fish to serve her. This kind of exchange won't be a problem at Sugarfish; guests do not have the opportunity to talk with the sushi chefs, who do all cooking out of sight in the kitchen.
Sugarfish is run by a group partnership that includes the chef's son, Tom Nozawa, co-head of operations. In addition to the new Calabasas location, another is in the works in Beverly Hills, due to open in a few months. There currently are locations in Brentwood, downtown Los Angeles, Marina del Rey, Santa Monica and Studio City. In addition, food from Nozawa Test Kitchen is served one Wednesday each month at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. (The next such event is scheduled for Feb. 6.)
The Calabasas spot will fill a vacancy created when a La Salsa outlet closed abruptly in the summer. Famous for pricey stores and celebrity sightings, The Commons has proved challenging to some retailers and restaurateurs. Since the center opened in 1998, a handful of eateries have come and gone, such as Damon & Pythius, Mi Piace, Coldstone Creamery and Robeks Juice. Its current restaurant lineup includes King's Fish House, Toscanova, Le Pain Quotidien and Marmalade Café, as well as a Corner Bakery, Crumbs Bake Shop and Johnny Rockets.
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The biggest challenge to this Sugarfish location may be that there are two other popular sushi restaurants in the neighborhood, Banzai Sushi in Old Town Calabasas and Shibuya Sushi across the street from The Commons. (And, in case you're wondering, both of those places will let you order extra rice.)
Sugarfish: The Commons, 4799 Commons Way, Calabasas.
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